Friday, October 18, 2013

What the frack? (Otherwise titled, longest blog post ever)

Unless you have been under a rock, it has been hard to miss the insanity that unfolded in New Brunswick this week between RCMP and protestors of an American company looking for natural gas in Elsipognog, New Brunswick.

Rather than rant, although you may find a touch of sarcasm here and there, I will give a quick and dirty so people can make up their own minds. A Cliffs Notes of the fracking insanity if you will.

Fracking is the process used to extract natural gas from shale. A well is drilled thousands of feet down and then a cocktail of chemicals and sand is poured in to fracture the rock and allow the gas and oil to be removed.
Dangers of fracking include disruption to wildlife and their habitats, contamination of groundwater, methane pollution, air pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, blowouts due to gas explosion, waste disposal, large volume water use in water-deficient regions, fracking-induced earthquakes and infrastructure degradation.
Opposition to fracking isn’t new. Quebec has gone so far as to impose a moratorium on the practice, calling for more information and proof that it is being done safely before any more companies can drill. Because the current practice of hydro-fracking only became popular around 1999, less than 20 years ago, it is hard to tell the full extent of its damage on the environment.
In recent years, New Brunswick has begun to allow American companies to explore for gas. One of these companies is Southwestern Energy Co. based out of Houston (SWN resources). Reportedly, they have already faced lawsuits in the United States where communities have claimed that their drinking water was destroyed by chemicals and waste left by the company.
That means over 100 communities in New Brunswick are potentially looking at the same fate.
The provincial government can’t be blamed for having a bit of a hard on over the whole thing. In their minds they see the potential for a big economic boom. I see a province asking its people to take enormous risks with vague promises of reward.
New Brunswick has legislation allowing it to hold referendums on significant issues and there have reportedly been public calls for a vote over the fracking issue.
From what the media has been reporting over the last few years regarding this issue, despite his election promises of more public consultation and opinion, Premier David Alward has decided a vote is not needed. He feels he is protecting the safety of the province already. That is hard to believe. Research, policy and regulation can take years to build, so these companies can be in and out before the province even knows what the damage may be.
Meetings with protestors have been refused. Meetings to go to the U.S. to chat with oil and gas producers have not. 
Limited resources and time hold back the people who protest the fracking, facing a government who won’t hear them and big business with a wealth of power and resource.
David and Goliath.
What the protestors want, what the supporting MLA’s want, what the communities want, is a moratorium imposed until more information is collected. They also want to be part of the conversation and the decisions being made. There is likely more, but as an outsider looking in, I can't be their voice. 
I do know they want to be heard by the government that they elected. The one that promised they would finally be heard. This is not a lot to ask.
While protests have been going on for a while, one group, the one making the news, has taken up residence outside of SWN Resources since the summer. Much of the group has consisted of Mi’kmaq and Maliseet who fear for the environmental recriminations of fracking, but their movement has been supported by hundreds of other community members, MLA’s, human rights organizations and citizens from around the world.
They also claim to have rights to the land while the government claims it's crown land. I don’t pretend to know who is right here or to be knowledgable about that issue. 
This had been a peaceful protest up until yesterday when the RCMP showed up in the early morning to enforce an injunction allowing SWN Resources to go back to work.
They were there to support the rights of SWN, who was losing an estimated $60,000 a day, over the concerns of their own citizens who feel they are not being heard.
That quick and dirty brings us to yesterday's events. 
Ok I lied, here is where I rant a little.
Yesterday was a disgrace.
I understand the job of the RCMP is to be an unbiased third party who is asked to enforce the law and keep the peace. I understand that it would not be fair of me to point out the number of times the RCMP has been investigated for excessive use of force in these situations, so I won’t bring that up…ahem, and we will just focus on what happened here.
My opinion is that the RCMP showed up ready for war, not for keeping the peace.
They enforced media black outs which made it hard for reporters, or anyone other than RCMP, to document what happened.
There were snipers, dogs, and 300 to 700 armed officers in police carriers.  
Numerous reports state that the violence did not erupt until the crowd was sprayed with pepper spray and the RCMP got aggressive. According to some sources, one RCMP officer declared, “the Crown land belongs to the government, not fucking Natives.”
Unbiased third party indeed.
There was no previous violence to support the type of police presence that arrived. There were reports of two security guards exchanging words with the protestors and feeling threatened. That is it. 
Many believe they moved in not to enforce the injunction, but to avoid the October 18th planned day of action. 
Supporters were calling for people around the country to rally together and provide a flood of phone calls and letters to government in support of the protestors.
Letters and phone calls? Those violent protestors.
The events this week are hard to watch. I don’t agree with violence. It breaks my heart. I also believe that the RCMP encouraged, rather than discouraged it. But I have surprised myself this week by understanding the frustration, fear and anger that it stems from. We have become a very apathetic generation, hardened to the news. We react one day but, as government and big business know, we will quickly forget what angered us on the supper news the night before. When we do, they can do what they want, lining their pockets while we, and the generations after us, suffer for it.
Almost every major change in history has only developed after it exploded into violence. That is unfortunate.
It is also unfortunate that Alward allowed this situation to escalate to this point. He has had years to have these conversations, allow a vote, allow public consultation, to listen to HIS province’s concerns but rather than extinguishing these fires in advance and working to the best benefit of everyone, he has hidden behind his financial dreams for the future and an RCMP SWOT team.
What we have to remember is that this didn’t blow up because of a few days of being ignored, or a few months, its been a few years of the issue being skirted in New Brunswick.
I, for one, am thankful that there are still people out there standing up for my rights. 
Because I can be just as apathetic as the next person. 
Because it isn’t just their land or their communities or their water that will be affected, it is mine and yours as well. 
Violence is unfortunate, but until there is a government that is more willing to stand behind the concerns of its own people, before they stand behind an American corporation, this is what will continue to happen.
That’s my two cents.


  1. Allison, quantitative statements can only help make the case against fracking. To that end, can you tell us the composition of "the cocktail"? What are the ingredients and what are their proportions? Also, while it is true that many lawsuits have been filed, I'm not able to find how a single one concluded. Can you cite some which ruled in favour of the plaintiff? And finally, please cite the worse case of which you know regarding fracking-induced earthquakes. I remember about 3 years ago, we had a magnitude 5.0 earthquake in our area and hardly anyone even noticed it and no structural damage was reported. What has been the largest fracking-induced earthquake? Quantitative evidence is much more difficult for people to ignore or refute. Too often these concerns devolve into nothing more than name-calling and nothing ever changes in that kind of environment.

    1. I am unable to provide the make up of the 'cocktail' because it is considered a trade secret among oil and gas companies and is not normally required to be given through regulation. In NB's defence, they want to make this a requirement of companies that drill there. As for your other questions, I can't go down the road of that debate because I have no more answers than you and therein lies the problem. You can't prove that it is safe any more than I can prove that it's not. No one can. It is too young a practice to understand long terms consequences. I am not for or against fracking, I am against making a habit of the practice until those questions are answered and we understand the full consequences of our actions. And those answers needs to come from someone who does not stand to gain financially. I'm not a scientist, just giving my opinion as a I see it ;)

  2. As I understand it, the US Environmental Protection Agency has undertaken a study to assess the safety (or not) of fracking. Sadly, as with most government services, it's taking a long (too long?) time. Their report for public comment and peer review isn't scheduled to be released until 2014 (no particular month given). Where you resist any studies from those who gain financially, the cynical side of me tends to resist any studies from those who gain politically. I can't help but think that the EPA is biding its time to see how public opinion coalesces (or not).

    1. I'd like your comment if there was that option on blogger ha.

    2. Thank you, Allison. :)

      I discovered an interesting study out of the UK by the Royal Academy of Engineering. In it, they state:

      Many claims of contaminated water wells due to shale gas extraction have been made. None has shown evidence of chemicals found in hydraulic fracturing fluids. Water wells in the areas of shale gas extraction have historically shown high levels of naturally occurring methane before operations began.

      Like you, I'm no expert on this topic and I've been frustrated in trying to find factual information on the subject. This paper is the best I have found thus far. I hope you view it as encouraging, if not good, news.

      Here is a link to the URL:


  3. On Page 3 of their August 2012 report, the BC Oil and Gas Commission states:

    In undertaking the investigation, the Commission notes that more than 8,000 high-volume hydraulic fracturing completions have been performed in northeast British Columbia with no associated anomalous seismicity. None of the NRCan reported events caused any injury, property damage or posed any risk to public safety or the environment.

    So, the demonstrated frequency and severity of quakes are low. Unfortunately, the study makes no reference at all to the impact on drinking water nor was I able to find any such study on their website.

  4. Low but not obsolete. Again,it's about people being part of the discussion and knowing the answers to these things. The injunction has been lifted but I don't the details as of yet.

  5. Update: